Rethink “marketing”

Dave Peck’s written a blog post where he says his clients are questioning whether they want to use Twitter as part of a social media mix. The arguments he quotes suggest that his clients have an experience similar to the experience we have when we go to a “networking event,” and find that everybody in the room is hoping to sell, and nobody’s looking to buy. Dave asks “can somebody really get clients from Twitter? Is Twitter Overrated and Overhyped?”

A few responses to his post, including mine, make a point I would think is obvious: if you think of Twitter as a platform where you “get clients,” you’ve already stumbled, fallen, can’t get up. I use an old media example that we all still use, the telephone. All companies have telephones, but not all companies do telemarketing. Many people place themselves on a “do not call list” because they specifically do NOT want to be interrupted by sales calls from strangers, and in general telemarketers are regarded as a lower life form. You don’t want that for your company, right? But the telephone is still a valuable tool for authentic voice communication, and it can be business critical even if it’s not about “getting clients.”

If you set up a Twitter or other “social media” account for your company to “get clients,” you’re not understanding the new world of bottom-up personal media. That’s okay, nobody expects you to shift paradigms overnight, it takes a while to sink in – broadcast media is losing mindshare to personal media, what we’ve been calling social media, where everybody can be both producer and consumer, in contexts where they can control we all have increasingly more control over which messages we receive. It’s Darwinian: people are selecting environments where they can exclude or skip interruptions from strangers coming in from outside their preferred focus of attention – i.e. the broadcast television/radio approach doesn’t work, because the captive audience has been liberated by technology.

So much of our thoughts and attitudes about marketing and selling were developed within the context of mass marketing, because that’s where we lived, but it was really a blip in the evolution of media. “Markets are conversations.” In the past, we had real conversations with the people who sold us products and services – this was before the “mass” phase created a sense of abstraction both ways – customers were numbers, and the actual sellers were ghosts somewhere beyond the actual touchpoints, unseen, only imagined. In the future, we’ll have real conversations again, this time mediated by technology. How this scales is still a big question, part of the bigger question of how we reorganize around the robust, data-intensive, increasingly mobile communication technologies we’re evolving in the 21st century.

But you have to rethink the whole client acquisition thing. It’s more like “how can I build and sustain relationships that are relevant to my business (or nonprofit, or cause, etc.)”

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.

3 thoughts on “Rethink “marketing””

  1. If I were back in the world of full-time software product development, one the things I’d use Twitter for would be concise and timely announcements of software version releases. I’d keep the marketing drones the hell away from messing around with my customers; I figure social media as a whole is a huge honeypot for bad marketing behavior. I’m not sure there is a solution to that problem.

  2. Don’t have anything to add, because I agree with it all. Laughed out loud during the second paragraph.

    You touched on a bit that’s been tripping me out: the idea of mass communications — a select few reaching everyone — is it a historical quark based on adolescent technologies? In otherwords, as a child of the 80’s — full on MTV rising days — did I grow up during a strange anomaly where small groups were able to dominate the conversation like never before, and like they never would again? Yes, these are the questions that keep me up at night…

    My personal makeshift framework for predicting the future is that the technologies that require minimal change in behavior, and allow one to spread gossip most easily will be the ones that win. TV does well on the first requirement, I admit, its the second one that makes me not consider it a safe investment. If there’s a safe investment to make its humans like to gossip, and almost always prefer gossiping to being just merely lazy!

  3. Nick, you definitely got one point I’ve been making: we assume, because we grew up with it, that the mass media approach is the rule, but it’s really the exception. I think we all still prefer sitting around the fire, telling stories, to passive entertainment distributed few to many. The Internet, but making media more personal, seems to be proving that out, and I think that’s why what we’ve been calling “social media” is so compelling. You mention gossip – that’s just a form of personal storytelling.

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